Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inheritances



My parents cared for my son yesterday - a full day away from home, my first.

Before I left, they sat at the kitchen table. I rubbed my hands together, "They're so dry."

"You're a mother," my mother replied. "My hands are dry, too."

"Yes, I remembered that your hands were always dry. Now, I understand."

I remember my mother's hands catching on fabric while she folded laundry or worked on a sewing project. My father's hands are well worked, too. Often, they are banged up, cut, or bandaged.

While the palms of my hands are dry, like my mother's, the backs of my hands are like my father's. One long red scratch from hiking through multiflora rose. I don't remember getting it, and I've been lazy about caring for it except for one topical application of echinacea. There's the deep burn on my wrist from the oven rack. I was distracted while removing a baking project.

I wonder whose hands my son will inherit.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What have I done?

Mother and child in public restroom - diaper changed, several photographs made, and a hungry baby nursed. Back to food shopping. I think parents should do chore- and child-related relay races. Add it to the 'to do list'.

I thought about keeping a list of what I've done each day. That's today's new idea. Just so I feel as though I've done something. So I can report to others upon their inquiry, "So, what did you do today?"

***

Today, my mom called, "Hi, you busy?"

"Ummm."

"I can call you back."

"Um."

"It's no problem."

"Uhh. I think I may be busy for the rest of my life," I say and my mom laughs. "So let's talk now. I wanted to call you today." I realize that the whole day, days even, might slip by before I call her back.

I ask again, though I've been told many times, when my brother's flight is arriving.

"Oh, he's already here," she says.

I sigh. I had forgotten it's already Tuesday.

My mom continues, "But, I booked the hotel for the wrong day. I thought our appointment was on 'x' day (you see, I've already forgotten what she told me several times), so I had to rebook it."

I wonder if getting dates wrong and forgetting date-related things is genetic or related to becoming a mother. Considering my history of arriving to observe a Chinese new year parade one day early, to visit museums on their closed day... I'd say this ailment is genetic, worsened by motherhood.

***

So, what have I done today?

1. 3 loads of laundry. 1 adult, line dried. 2 baby, both machine dried - trying to remedy that diaper rash.
1 1/2. 10 or more scissor kicks practiced outside. Interrupted by baby waking sounds. Brought leaves, stems, dirt in on my shoes and clothes. ALL OVER JARED'S VACUUMED (yesterday) CARPET. note: this was added many hours later... who has time to renumber unless you are using Excel.
2. 1 quart sized yogurt container of birdseed to the feeder.
3. 2 lunches - 1 bowl of pork bone soup at 11:10AM. 1 tub of reheated leftovers at 2PM. The daylight savings time change is nearly as bad as jet lag.
4. 1 walk down to the end of the lane to pick up the mail. Carried baby in hand because we both find the baby carrier can be disagreeable.
5. 2 pieces of mail retrieved.
6. 1 interpersonal interaction - waved to neighbor.
7. 1 phone call - as described above.
8. 2 components of dinner - rice noodles and coconut gravy to give the pork bone soup additional fatty goodness and starch.
9. 1 upload of digital photographs.
10. 1 caterpillar discovered along the roadside.
11. 1 more excited thought that SPRING IS COMING - insect field guides moved to 'short list' bookshelf in anticipation.
12. 1 caterpillar identified as a giant leopard moth caterpillar - maybe.
12a. 1 terrarium created for a caterpillar who is most likely not going to make it. The creature was oozing a brown liquid.

13. 3 swaddlings of 1 tired baby leading to 3 successful naps.
14. 2 ears listening for the eastern phoebe's return, instead hearing the occasional spring peeper.
15. 2 eyes watching the clouds roll in.
16. 1 responsible mind thinking of pulling 1 load of adult laundry in.
17. 1 finally creative mind digging out of a rut, writing this text, saying NO MORE LAUNDRY.
18. 1 rough attempt at 2010 Form 1040.
19. 3 mason jars of tired dried herbs discarded.
20. 2 attempts at Boericke's Materia Medica with Repertory.
21. 2 watering cans emptied on seedling trays in greenhouse.
22. 1 bag of trash to can.
23. I'm sure there's something else.
24. Several undocumented diaper changes, feedings, conversations, comfortings, cuddlings, smiles, laughs, coos, and shrieks

So, I have done something today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Human Barrens: Data and Scale



Data is a type of information that is devoid of sensual, narrative, or experiential qualities. In our (scientific) culture, it is privileged above empirical and embodied forms of knowing.

When it is said: "We live in the age of information" it could equally be said: we live in an age without senses or stories.

We live in the age of the Human Barrens.

There is a forgotten ethics that I will call awareness. Awareness stems from tactile, layered, complex, sensual observation of reality. It is closely related to living, although many people might live with little awareness - especially if they fulfill there innate curiousity through data. Data is the equivalent of empty calories - mass-produced starches and sugars with little nutritive value which nevertheless enable the satisfaction of hungers.

Both empty calories and data stem emerge from the replacement of life with mass-produced simulacra.

In the case of empty calories, real food made from living organisms-- fruits, meat, leaves etc.-- are replaced by manufactured food-- basically factory-produced reductionist compounds-- like high-fructose corn syrup, "flavorings", or refined wheat flour.

In the case of data, real experiences-- tracking an animal, growing a food plant, travel, even fighting-- are being supplanted by "information". Often, the information comes packaged with sensory triggers such as one might encounter in the real world, like vivid colors or sounds. But these are just engaging simulacra, copies brought to life by technology, zombie artifacts of mechanical mimesis.

Why are some aspects of life being replaced with simulacra? The first reason is scale.

The scale of human population of the Earth necessitates structures of social organization that rely heavily on simulacra. Reality is simply to expensive, too time-consuming, too resources intensive-- whether one is talking about subsistence, or education, or even health care.

*      *      *

Here's a simple story through which to model the effects of scale on information:

Let's say you have a year. You live in a hundred-acre natural area, and your goal is to produce a flora describing all of the plants in your hundred acres of forest and field.

For a year you wander, observe. You feel the cats-tongue scratchiness of elm leaves. You taste the sweet huckleberries and note the satisfying crunch of the large seeds in each berry. You also taste the sweet blueberries, but they are a little more tart, and the seeds are too small to crunch. Sometimes your eyes can't discern the difference between a young black birch and a young black cherry. You learn to rub your fingernail across the smooth bark of a twig. Your nose tells you: wintergreen is black birch, bitter almond is black cherry.

At the end of the year you produce a highly subjective flora, brimming with stories and sensual experiences. You and the land have been drawn close by the thread of a thousand connections.

You have awareness, and the information you have learned has ethical content. It is moral.

Now, here is a counter-story. Let's say you have a year...

You are charged with creating a flora for the entire state you live in. You begin by considering pre-existing models of organization. What methodology for presenting plant species is the most efficient? What ties in best to existing sources of information?

Then, you spend a lot of time in herbaria. You pore over the work of others. The "miracle" of the internet allows you quick access to colleagues, and incredible amounts of data. You store, sort, process, organize, categorize, and present.

At the end of the year, you have a highly objective flora, covering your entire state. It becomes a key reference. It sells many more copies than the book about the hundred acres would. You are universally acknowledged to be a "real expert".

You have exerted control over data. Your knowledge has no particular moral or ethical content.

The stories above are intended to demonstrate that scale drives modes of inquiry, that the same individual operating at similar endeavors but at different scales can end up with a very different kind of information -- and a different sensual and ethical capacity as well.

*      *      *

Data is quickly accessible, easily organized into hierarchies, rapidly processed. It is targeted, efficient, and often effective at producing an impressive result. It is a wonderful commodity when operating at a large scale.

We have become far more advanced at conducting data than ever before. But, just because we can look up the weather in Bangkok or Guadalajara does not mean we can feel it. Just because we can look up vast lodes of scientific data about life on Earth doesn't mean we know it, can tell stories about it, or are living it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One month ago today

Spring is coming -

Two days hard labor in the garden
Indoors chillier than out
Walked outside coatless, I was comfortable
Took my son outside as is, he was comfortable
Basal rosettes of goldenrod and bristly aster, green and robust
Blue jays have left the feeder, the little birds stay on
Red-winged blackbirds at the feeder
Raven overhead!
Flocks of blackbirds, Canada geese, and snow geese
Mud, mud, mud
Return of the greenhouse - sprouting arugula, carrots, beets, chard, parsley
Cilantro holds on nicely, no wonder it is never around for salsa time - it's a cold season crop
The window is open